IT was Hollywood that showed me the power of hotel loyalty programs.
Remember that Up In The Air scene when George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, swaggers up to the hotel check-in counter with the Hilton HHonors card in his wallet allowing him to jump the queue of people waiting to receive a room key?
“He just waltzes in and cuts the line,” the annoyed traveller at the front asks as last-to-arrive Ryan is served first.
“We reserve priority assistance for our Hilton HHonors members,” the hotel staffer explains unapologetically.
That’s when I decided to give hotel loyalty programs a chance – hey, who doesn’t want to cut in line after a 24-hour flight – and signed up for rewards giving me preferential treatment at hotels around the globe.
A couple of years later several international brands announced they were offering free in-house Wi-Fi to guests packing club cards and, tired of paying big bucks to use the internet, I signed up with a couple more companies and now rarely pay to get online while staying away from home.
Because I spend a reasonable amount of time on the road – more than the average leisure traveller but nowhere near Ryan Bingham’s number – I don’t quickly accumulate the points needed for free nights but do get the occasional room upgrade, complimentary welcome drinks, and the priceless early check-in after an all-night flight.
And it seems I’m not alone, with an Expedia survey conducted in April revealing Aussie travellers are “addicted to loyalty”, with 71 per cent of the population using at least one hotel program “in a bid to make travel dreams a reality”.
The study found 23 per cent of Australians use multiple accounts at once, such as a credit card combined with a hotel or airline program, and the tactic is working with 27 per cent redeeming rewards more than three times and 50 per cent adding memberships allowing them to book trips they otherwise may not take.
So, is it worth belonging to a hotel rewards system when you only spend a few nights a year away from home?
The short answer is yes.
Programs are free to join, points generally don’t expire if you spend one night a year in a brand property, most plans provide money-saving perks like free Wi-Fi, and many offer redemption options beyond complimentary nights including free flights.
In financial terms, “road warriors’’, are the ones clocking up dozens of stays in hotels and bragging about taking the family on annual vacations and not paying a cent for accommodation using points accumulated during work travel. Tourists can also save up to $30 a night enjoying the free Wi-Fi other guests pay to use.
Ashley Hanson, Starwood’s regional director of sales and marketing, says his company’s loyalty program was crafted to offer everything from “perks to personalisation” at 1200 properties in 100 countries.
“Starwood Preferred Guests can earn points across the company’s 10 brands which can be redeemed for various benefits including free-night awards, room upgrades and late check-out, award flights on 350 major airlines without blackout dates, free wi-fi and welcome gifts,’’ he says.
“To get the most out of the program download the SPG app for iPhone which uses state-aware technology to create a personalised hotel stay, and use the app to access SPG Keyless, which is the industry’s first mobile and keyless entry system, allowing guests to use their smartphone as a key’’.
Here’s the good oil on what major players offer when it comes to hotel loyalty programs:
Starwood Preferred Guest
“SPGs” can earn and redeem points at St Regis, W Hotels, Luxury Collection, Tribute, Sheraton, Le Meridien, Westin, Four Points by Sheraton, Element, Aloft with the company promoting guests to higher membership levels on achieving set totals.
As starter level “preferred guests” customers earn two points for every “eligible US dollar spent”, with free nights available at 2000 points, and complimentary Wi-Fi when rooms are booked through the brand’s digital channels and innovations like Starwood Moments, which permit exclusive access to concerts and sports events.
Being a Hilton Honors member grants points-earning and redeeming power at 4200 locations across 11 brands – Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Canopy, Curio, Doubletree by Hilton, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites, Hilton Grand Vacations – in 93 countries.
There are four member levels, with guests graduating after a set number of stays or nights rather than points. The basic level is gained on enrolment, which provides digital check-in and complimentary in-room wi-fi at most brands as well as late check-out, subject to availability, and a second guest staying free.
IHG Rewards Club
IHG Rewards Club lets business and leisure travellers book at 4600 hotels belonging to 11 brands, including InterContinental, Hua Luxe, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza, Even Hotels, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn Resorts, Holiday Inn Vacations, Candlewood Suites, and Staybridge Suites.
The program gives 10 points for every US dollar spent – except at Candlewood and Staybridge suites, where it is five points – with the entry-level grade boasting free internet access and late check-out, when available.
Le Club Accorhotels
Sofitel, Pullman, M Gallery, Grand Mercure, The Sebel, Novotel, Suite Novotel, Mercure, Adagio, ibis, ibis Styles, Adagio Access, and Thalassa Sea & Spa are the Accor brands belonging to the company’s Le Club program which combine to give guests access to 2800 properties in 92 countries. Four membership tiers are available.
The Wyndham Hotel Group’s club includes 7500 hotels in 71 countries with Dolce, Wyndham Grand, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Wyndham Grand, TRYP, Wingate, Hawthorn Sites, Microtel Inn & Suites, Ramada, Baymont Inn & Suites, Days Inn, Super8, Howard Johnson, Travelodge and Knights Inn the brands. The system was revamped in May – it now offers “a more generous points-earning structure along with a flat redemption rate”.
More than 4000 hotels in 70 countries fall under the Marriott Rewards umbrella with guests earning 10 points for every US dollar spent at JW Marriott, Marriott, Renaissance, Autograph Collection, Marriott Vacation Club, Edition, AC Hotels, Springhill Suites, Protea, The Ritz-Carlton, Gaylord Hotels, Courtyard Marriott, Fairfield Inn & Suites, and Moxy.
Properties are grouped into categories, depending on location, standard and brand. Basic membership allows for gratis wi-fi, mobile check-in, and a “fifth redemption night free’’.
Hyatt Gold Passport
Hyatt Hotels, Hyatt House, Hyatt Regency, Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Centric, Hyatt Place, Hyatt Zilara and Ziva, Andaz, and Hyatt Residence Club are the brands belonging to this loyalty program with customers making and spending points at 600 locations in 52 countries.
Hyatt lets guests add five points per every eligible US dollar spent, with points going towards free nights not subject to blackout dates, room upgrades, and airline miles while late check-out is another perk.
Get the best out of your hotel loyalty program
Hotel loyalty clubs provide money-saving bonuses to even the most infrequent traveller, but here are a few simple steps that guarantee more from membership.
1. Book a room using the hotel’s own website as stays arranged on third-party pages will not gain points and privileges.
2. Pick a program that suits your needs – favourite brands, most visited locations – and be loyal to that club’s properties.
3. Strive for status, which comes with loyalty, as higher tiers of membership promise more bonuses and personalised service.
4. Download the program’s app or maintain personal details on the membership page as this speeds up the booking process.
5. If you prefer using third-party websites to make holiday plans then Expedia and Hotelclub offer their own rewards systems.
6. Consider “smaller” hotels with Fairmont’s Presidents Club and Shangri-La’s Golden Circle including thoughtful touches.
7. Sign up for email alerts advertising deals like double points, free breakfast, late check-out, and discount room rates.
8. Link hotel loyalty accounts to your favourite airline if accumulating frequent-flyer points is a priority over free nights.
9. Be tech-savvy as some extras only come when a room is booked through a company’s digital channels like websites and apps.